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Does the FDCPA Protect Consumers In The Digital Age?
Harassment by debt collectors is unfortunately all too common these days. Luckily, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) protects us from traditional means of harassment, such as by phone and through the mail; however, the digital age has now paved the way for debt collectors to potentially harass consumers in a virtual environments.
Or has it?
In 1979 when Congress enacted the FDCPA, modern devices and virtual platforms including smartphones and social media had not existed and therefore had not been specifically addressed under the FDCPA. That does not mean abusive forms of communication and harassment by debt collectors today are allowed – even if that communication is through social media.
In the digital age, there have been incidences of debt collectors creating social media accounts on sites like Facebook and Twitter and messaging IDs on apps like Whatsapp to contact people about their alleged debts, some wonder whether these unfair debt collection practices have been addressed to protect consumers.
While some contact is as minor as sending a friend request asking to make contact about the debt, other times collectors post threatening messages or contact family and friends to try and locate your whereabouts. It has gotten to the point that people are feeling even more harassed over the internet than they could have ever been by the phone or by mail.
Under 15 U.S. Code § 1692c, consumers are protected from abusive, deceptive or unfair communication practices from debt collectors. Still, “communication” is a fairly broad term that does not specifically address issues of communication via digital devices or social media platforms.
Although digital communications are likely covered by the FDCPA, additional protections specifically addressing these issues may inevitably be bound to happen. Some have already suggested that the FDCPA be amended to include protections against this online harassment.
Is There Any Way to Get the Online Harassment to Stop?
Unfortunately, it will take time to amend current legislation to better protect consumers from online harassment by debt collectors. In the meantime, though, there are ways to stop and potentially prosecute the perpetrators of the harassment. The first thing you should always do is to send a note in writing to the company who is harassing you, asking that all contact stop. If they continue to message you online, that is still a form of contact and may allow you to get justice for the suffering caused by their harassment.
Even if that does not work, the debt collectors may be violating current statute in other ways. According to the guidelines on social media use for debt collection by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, “The FDCPA generally prohibits debt collectors from publicly disclosing that a consumer owes a debt. Using social media to inappropriately contact consumers, or their families and friends, may violate the restrictions on contacting consumers imposed by the FDCPA.” The following are some actions that may be considered illegal:
- Posting about a debt on a public page,
- Embarrassing you via Twitter by seeking you for a debt,
- Threatening you through social media,
- Continuing social media contact after requested to stop,
- Making false or misleading representations as a representative of a debt collection agency (even online), and
- Making a false profile or using a fake name while trying to contact you about a debt (under online impersonation laws).
There may well be others. Exactly what is or is not illegal debt collection behavior online is still unclear. What is clear, though, is that debt collectors still must be respectful and professional while trying to make contact, or they may be harassing you illegally.
If you are receiving harassing communications from a debt collector, you may be entitled to compensation or other remedies to make the harassment end. Call the Ohio FDCPA lawyers at Luftman, Heck & Associates at (888) 726-3181 for a free consultation on your unique situation. As experienced FDCPA practitioners, we will be best able to help you understand your rights as a consumer—and get the treatment you deserve.